Parler: Conflicts of Interest Undermine Freedom of Speech

Since 2020, American conservatives have been flocking to Parler like moths to a flame. Perhaps that analogy fits better than most would expect.

Readers who have been following my columns here on the CYGO blog for the past year probably know where I’m going with this already. To put it succinctly; one cannot have a for-profit social network that simultaneously protects freedom of expression. As I laid out in a previous brief post regarding what I feel are the proper fundamental principles of a free speech platform, “As we’ve seen in many prime examples such as Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and Instagram the interests of investors and advertisers are put before users and their communications”. At this point, I think we could safely include Parler in that list.

I think before I really get into Parler’s fundamental, systemic issues as a platform, it’s imperative to note that Parler is in large part funded by Rebekah Mercer, according to a plethora of sources including CNN and other outlets. Normally I wouldn’t link to an article from CNN, but their piece provides a decent synopsis about Rebekah Mercer if you overlook the hyperbolic and false narratives regarding Parler’s user base. It’s not only fair to say, but potentially an understatement that Mercer has deep pockets, given that her father is a billionaire hedge fund manager. Mercer also has (or rather, had) a stake in Cambridge Analytica, which you may recall having obtained personal information collected by Facebook in order to create targeted political advertising just a few years ago.

Given the fact that the main financial support and control of Parler is in the hands of an individual whom additionally has no problem with Cambridge Analytica unethically misusing personal data, what makes anyone think that Parler actually respects user privacy? Relating to that, Parler implements Google Fonts in their front-end, and everyone knows Google’s stance on personal privacy. Even more atrocious though, Parler requires a phone number to even sign up. You can’t use a VoIP number or a burner number, it must be through your mobile carrier. Then, once you’ve given up your personal phone number and all possible anonymity, to gain full functionality of your account you must upload a copy of your photo identification. No, that’s not an exaggeration, it’s what they enthusiastically call “Parler Citizen Verification”. What could go wrong giving a company funded by multi-millionaires, that is known for widespread security issues your state-issued photo identification? It sounds absolutely absurd, but really it isn’t surprising.

The entire goal of Parler isn’t to provide first-amendment style free speech on the internet. The entire goal of Parler is to simply make a profit.

Parler sells advertisements, which creates a conflict of interest. When users engage in speech that prominent, well-paying advertisers dislike, Parler is going to be under pressure to silence those users. When it comes to making a profit, I’m sure they’ll hardly have an issue silencing a few users or purging some accounts which promote ideologies deemed ‘unfit’ by their advertisers and financial contributors.

Notably, soon after Parler’s relaunch, Parler decided to ban Milo Yiannopoulos after he made “offensive” statements opposing illegal immigration and LGBT lifestyle. Clearly that isn’t indicative of free speech, that’s more of something one would expect from Facebook or Twitter. It would be rather naive to perceive this as an isolated incident, after all, if they would do so to an account such as Milo’s with a large following, what’s to stop them from doing it to smaller accounts?

Parler has a lot of other blatant issues too, such as its security breaches, lack of proper functionality (multiple attempts necessary to login, consistently timing out), amateurish user interface, comic stupidity of management (hosting on AWS and third-party proviers, and not to mention the horrible new logo design which Gab’s founder Andrew Torba accurately compared to the likeness of a menstrual pad.

The last issue I want to focus on isn’t included in that list, though. Parler seems to prioritize public figures (media personalities, politicians, celebrities, etc) over its standard users. When you browse through Parler, the only accounts you ever see are those of prominent conservatives like Sean Hannity; you never see individuals who post engaging content actually build a following in an organic way. Having open dialogue simply doesn’t work when some voices are able to unfairly shout down the voices of others, whether they are opposing or affirming.

Before I come to a close, I think I should address one thing I see so often. Individuals complain about the in-fighting between us free speech social networks, claiming that we’re ‘working toward the same goal’ and that the other ‘isn’t the enemy’. As I’ve laid out, Parler is not working toward the same goal as organizations like CYGO, Gab, and others which take freedom of speech seriously. Here, we don’t have ‘competitors’, and I have no opposition to other platforms and organizations fighting for the same cause; in fact the more we have, the better. However, when platforms claim to support our ideals, but act in an opposing way, it’s our responsibility to call it out.

It’s time to ditch Mozilla.

Over the years, using Linux, Mozilla’s Firefox has almost always arguably been the best option for an open-source, privacy-respecting browser. I’ve been personally using Firefox for nearly 6 years as my primary web browser and I’ve been relatively satisfied with its functionality, stability, and extensibility.

It’s been obvious for some time now that Mozilla is no longer (or perhaps maybe, has never been) an organization that champions an open internet, freedom of expression, and personal privacy.

Mozilla still continues to sell itself as an anti-establishment organization fighting for the little guy, despite the facts that I’m about to point out.

Mozilla couldn’t care less about your privacy.

By default, Mozilla Firefox has telemetry enabled. This means that data regarding your browsing activity and usage of Firefox are sent directly to Mozilla. In all fairness, you can disable it, but any organization which puts privacy first isn’t going to have it enabled by default.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a few months ago Firefox started pushing DNS over HTTPs. But that sounds good, right? DNS over HTTPS isn’t inherently a bad thing, except by default it’s provided by Cloudflare (which, you can read my previous post regarding Cloudflare).

Mozilla doesn’t support freedom of expression and takes radically-left positions.

This summer, I noticed this appear as a ‘snippet’ in the new tab page of my Firefox browser:

Of course, I didn’t appreciate having mantras of “social justice” plastered on my new tab page, so I went into my settings to turn off Snippets. Well, upon opening the page, Snippets were already disabled.

Upon seeing this, I decided to submit a bug to Firefox’s bug-tracking software known as Bugzilla. This bug received two replies from developers and was in short order closed as an apparent non-issue. I intended on including the screenshot of my submission to Bugzilla, but it has apparently been deleted.

Having leftist propaganda beamed directly into my browser without my consent is bad enough. Last month, early in January, Mozilla called publicly in a blog post for “more than deplatforming” of individuals who don’t align with their preferred political, social, and moral ideologies.

Based on all of this, firstly, CYGO Network will NO LONGER be recommending any of Mozilla’s products, Firefox included. Secondly, we should stop using Mozilla software. Is it really that difficult to see the possibility of Mozilla implementing some sort of utility that blocks websites like ours, without the consent of its users?

What browser do I recommend?

To preface this, I’ve seen a lot of people promoting and shilling for Brave browser. I’ve had discussions with colleagues, friends, and users regarding Brave over the past few years, and I must say that it’s just another Chromium-based browser with a plethora of alarming concerns. Brave browser isn’t a suitable piece of software in itself, much less an alternative to Firefox.

As I said above, Firefox at its core is still a good piece of software. This considered, I recommend GNU IceCat. IceCat is a Firefox-based web browser that removes all Mozilla-specific utilities and telemetry, previously known as IceWeasel which was the browser shipped by default in Debian. It’s also worth noting that since IceCat is a project of GNU and the Free Software Foundation that IceCat contains no non-free or proprietary software. It’s also worth noting that there are unofficial builds available for Microsoft Windows, and I opened an issue on the Github repository requesting that instructions for building the package be added to the README.

Liberal Logic: ‘Quit thinking’

As most of the people who follow my blog know, I don’t often write editorials, but when I do, it’s because I found something considerably significant.

This morning, I happened to quickly glance at my Facebook feed, and I saw a post from someone on my friend’s list, who happens to be left-leaning. The content of the post wasn’t really surprising, it’s just your typical tired Democrat narrative regarding their fetish for face masks. It was the reply to a comment which I found to be absolutely appalling and disgusting, but at the same time, I thought it worth bringing to attention as it really epitomizes this flawed way of thinking, devoid of all logic and rationality.

I won’t spoil the reply, I’ll let you read it and decide for yourself what you think about it first;

As much as the replying ‘individual’ deserves to be publicly shamed and ostracized for making this statement along with others that I’ve seen in the past, in the interest of privacy I blocked out all identifying information.

To the point, though, it’s clear that the information just doesn’t add up. Flu infections are down astronomically due to mask-wearing but COVID-19 infections are at the highest they’ve ever been? From that, one could only make one of two reasonable conclusions; either masks are relatively ineffective (as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the guy who also admitted to estimating COVID-19 data, initially stated) or that somehow the numbers are over-inflated.

11,500 people in Catawba County didn’t wear masks? That number doesn’t add up either. Firstly, that’s for sure a rounded number, there wouldn’t be an even number of cases. More significantly, when I’ve been shopping in Catawba County, I saw significantly few people not wearing masks, in many cases, I was the only one without a mask. By that logic, one would assume that no one who is in public wears masks in Catawba County, but nothing could be further from the truth. This once again points back to the first conclusion presented above. It is clear that many mask-wearing individuals have contracted infections of COVID-19 regardless.

With that considered, this guy wants everyone to “quit thinking and simply follow the guidelines”. These guidelines have been created by people who have repeatedly lied and misled the public, as well as controversial political figures. It’s also worth mentioning, that here in North Carolina, our DHHS secretary Mandy Cohen only practiced medicine for about 2 years and no longer holds a medical license.

What’s disturbing though, is that the person replying to that comment, and the others like him who think with this collectivist mindset don’t care about these facts and obvious logical fallacies.

What happens when you question them? Apparently you’re a “denier”, presumably of “science” and “fact”, but really it’s just a narrative with no basis. Let’s be clear, in order to believe in any of this, you really would have to stop thinking.

Blind trust and blind faith is a dangerous thing, and you would think, given that I know the person who wrote that reply is an atheist, that he would jump up and down in agreement with that statement.

Such trust in authority figures is what leads to the legitimization of oppressive authoritarian regimes such as Nazi Germany, The Soviet Union, and Communist China. People trusted Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. They followed their guidelines, and, well, we see where that got them; thought crime, silence of dissent, genocide, and complete government control of all information.

The United States and the belief in a free society was founded by individuals who questioned authority figures, and so they aimed to give the authority of self-government to the people. Elected officials aren’t chosen to have authority over the citizens, but rather are chosen by the citizens to carry out their will. This is a very important distinction, and as such, no appointed or un-elected individual should have the authority to create any guideline, mandate, or law, without the consent of the citizen.

Individuals who comply with tyrannical mandates and guidelines are legitimizing the abuse of power within our system of government and therefore complicit in the prevalence of fascism. To clear up some basic elementary school social studies, the executive branch (governor) does not have the authority to create laws. If governor-issued mandates were simply ignored, the state of North Carolina and the entire country would not be in the state which it is currently.

Questioning authority is healthy and ensures that individual freedoms are not violated. Freedom of thought is what makes the United States the exceptional and innovative country that it has always been. Freedom of thought is what makes you an individual. We must eradicate this dangerous collectivist mindset before the state of North Carolina and the United States befall the same fates as much of Asia and Eastern Europe.